Friday, March 07, 2008

Busy Minds Are Working to Make Black=White

"According to Vatican insiders the Pope will argue that Luther, who was excommunicated and condemned for heresy, was not a heretic. " [source]

Some are probably wondering if Rome can pull this off- that is, coming up with some way to condemn someone for heresy without that person being a "heretic."

I say they probably can. They can stretch language and logic as far it needs to be in order to protect the balloon from being popped. My guess is, since Luther was not specifically named at Trent as a heretic, it will be argued the Church never officially declared him a "heretic." But what about those particular papal bulls and earlier writings that condemn him? Well, they were written before the proclamation of papal infallibility, so how do we know with certainty the Pope wasn't just expressing his own opinion on Luther when he condemned him?

If I recall, the great Catholic scholar Hubert Jedin argued that no "official" judgment against Luther exists by which a Catholic is bound.

Here is a blog post I put together back in 2006:

"...I dont get this, if Luther is not in hell, is anyone at all? if a man that leads millions into a false belief system is not punished, how can any other "mortal sin" warrant it?..." -Musings From a Catholic Answers Participant

The subject of Martin Luther is always a hot topic on the Catholic Answers forums. A recent thread with only 39 posts generated over 500 views in about 2 days. The thread was, Luther’s Eternal Destiny. A person named Johannes raised an excellent question about whether or not the Roman Catholic Church knows who is in Hell and who is not, particularly Martin Luther:

I read in an RC apologetical work that the Roman Church makes no presumption concerning the eternal destiny of Martin Luther. Is that assertion true, and if so, has it always been the position of the Roman Church? It seems to run contrary to the language of the papal bulls issued concerning Luther. Exsurge Domine said that the Pope could, "without any further citation or delay, proceed against him to his condemnation and damnation..." Luther was nevertheless given time for repentance, so that he might escape "the death of a sinner." But Luther obviously did not repent. Decet Romanum Pontificem spoke of Luther's "depraved and damnable purpose." It called for any of the faithful who were sympathetic to the Lutherans to shun them, so that they "may escape divine vengeance and any degree of participation in their damnation." It further declared concerning Luther and his followers: "...these and the other sentences, censures and punishments... we decree to have fallen on all these men to their damnation." Clarification would be appreciated."

Now this is a well-constructed question. Of course, the mantra response was basically: The Church has made no specific pronouncement on Luther’s eternal state, or more precisely- the Roman Catholic Church has never declared any particular man is in Hell, be it Luther or even Judas.

Now- the implication strongly suggests that Luther, if he remained unrepentant, is currently in Hell, according to Roman Catholicism. This probably pleases many Catholic Answers forums participants.

Johannes made some excellent observations during the discussion:

I know the bulls do not say that the Pope is damning Luther. However, there is a big difference between (a) damning someone yourself, and (b) finding someone guilty of offenses that will certainly lead to eternal damnation, unless they are repented of. It looks to me like (b) is what the bull is doing. And if that is the case, then Luther's failure to repent would seem to require the conclusion that he is now in hell.”

The solemn threats of the bulls do not seem to be dealing with a mere probable destiny. Rather, it looks like they claim that Luther must either repent before he dies, or face damnation after his death.”

I still cannot see how, if the bulls are read in a straightforward way, and understood according to their original meaning, anyone can conclude that there is not grounds to say that Luther would be presumed to have been damned. The standard modern response to this appears to be the assertion that the church never directly or explicitly said that Luther was damned. That is of course true. But it ignores what seems like a simple, albeit indirect, inference from the bulls. For if someone is authoritatively called upon to repent because he is guilty of sins entailing damnation, and if he dies obstinately refusing to repent, then, even without any further declaration, there would appear to be only one possible presumption about his fate.”

In my own studies, I find a shift in attitude toward Luther in Roman Catholic circles. Previous to the work of Joseph Lortz, many Catholic writings against Luther had no problem locating him far from heaven. For instance, a contemporary of Luther’s, Cochlaeus, said Luther was a child of the devil and possessed by the devil- Satan then dragged Luther off to Hell when he died. I tend to think that if you were to poll 100 Catholic scholars in 1560 they would say Luther was condemned as a heretic and got what he deserved- a direct journey to Hell. If you were to poll 100 Catholic scholars in 2006, the responses would be varied. Why is this?

After Lortz ‘s work in the early 20th Century, an ecumenical wave went through the church. Now, it's hard to find Current RCC scholars and apologists willing to be so certain of Luther's fate. Catholic scholarship shifted from its early focus of evaluating Luther "the person" to evaluating Luther "the theologian". The focus shifted from painting Luther as the bogeyman to evaluating his theology. When the emphasis was placed on his character (which was grossly distorted by many earlier catholic works, as many scholars agree)- there was more of an emphasis on him as being the direct voice of Satan, thus damned along with Satan. But with the shift towards evaluating his theology, there has been give and take among Catholic scholarship, This makes things like ecumenical treatises JDDJ and ECT possible.

Of course, protestants are no longer heretics, but "separated brethren" in current Roman Catholic thought. Gone are the days of the sentiment of the Council of Florence which declared:

"It firmly believes, professes, and proclaims that those not living within the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics cannot become participants in eternal life, but will depart "into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels" [Matt. 25:41], unless before the end of life the same have been added to the flock; and that the unity of the ecclesiastical body is so strong that only to those remaining in it are the sacraments of the Church of benefit for salvation, and do fastings, almsgiving, and other functions of piety and exercises of Christian service produce eternal reward, and that no one, whatever almsgiving he has practiced, even if he has shed blood for the name of Christ, can be saved, unless he has remained in the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church. " (Denzinger 714).

Now the RCC loves everybody: section 841 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

"The Church's relationship with the Muslims. "The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind's judge on the last day."

I don't know if he intended this, But in Johannes closing comments he popped the big RCC ecumenical smiley face balloon:

What particularly bothers me about this whole matter is that what was actually done in the sixteenth century appears to have been reinterpreted or muddied in more recent times in order to serve the purposes of, for example, the ecumenical movement. It is interesting to me that many today are strenuously pressing the claim that there has never been any presumption about Luther's fate. My guess, which may or may not be right, is that this is in large part motivated by modern ecumenical sensibilities.”

Ultimately, this matter is for me one of honesty. I would sincerely hope that there is some other more secure foundation for the modern claim that Luther was never officially presumed to be damned. If there's not, simply telling the world that there neither is nor ever has been a presumption seems improper, since it omits a detail [that Luther never repented before his death] that would put the reality in a whole other light.”

Agreed Johannes. Thank you for the insightful comments.


Matthew Bellisario said...

Why worry? The Man was condemned a heretic by the Church. I doubt the Pope is going to remove the excommunication.


kevin82 said...


The lifting of excommunications is not unprecedented in RC history (e.g., Rome and Constantinople in 1965). Of course, what this means for the seriousness and authority of excommunications, I'll leave to the RC apologists.

------- Theo ------- said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
------- Theo ------- said...

I would not say "busy minds are working to make black equal white;" but rather, that prayerful hearts are working to right wrongs.

Excommunication (as Kevin points out) and non-dogmatic anathemas can be removed--and have been in the past. I invite you to look at the history of the Nestorian controversy to find more examples than you could shake a stick at (If stick shaking suits you).

What this means to the seriousness of excommunication (as Kevin ponders) is this: nothing--as this has always been the case. Understanding this might mean something to holders of misconceptions about excommunication, which I hope it does. Please keep in mind that excommunication is not "damnation."

To my knowledge, only God in Christ shall judge the living and the dead; so we confess in our Credo that we profess many times every day throughout the world in every Mass, and then some.

With hope and prayer for real Christian unity, I remain your servant and brother in Christ,

Anonymous said...

Man, if the pope does indeed eventually lift the excommunication, can you imagine the embarassment of many Catholics in the Catholic apologetics movement? I think in particular of Dr. Art Sippo. The fact that the pope is even going to re-consider and re-work the Church's understanding of Luther is cause for embarassment for these guys.

Jason said...

Here there be sanity:

Matthew Bellisario said...

I never said that it couldn't be done. I just said that I don't think it will happen. Two different things.

Matthew Bellisario said...

Why is it that James White has taken the time to address the "Martin Luther" rumor? He uses something that hasn't happened to use as a point of reference for the argument of the Church not being consistent with its teaching? What the heck is he talking about?? It really makes me wonder what lengths White will stoop to to argue with Catholics. James, why don't you wait and see what happens before you start making videos about it? Wow, and we are supposed to take Mr. White as a serious apologist. We are supposed to take someone who is basing an argument off of something that hasn't even happened yet and take them seriously? Come on James, be patient before you start assuming things like the Pope lifting the excommunication of Luther, and then having all of these apologists having to apologize to you. It hasn't happened yet, nor has the Holy See even given any acknowledgment about it. What this does prove however is that all of these people who keep mocking the Papacy have enough interest in it to keep following what the Church is doing. If the Holy See is such an abomination as White and many others say, then why waste all of this time talking about it? The sad point is, all of these people like White wish they had a consistent, apostolic, Biblical teaching to follow. All they have are private opinions to follow. On final point here before I go. I have never, never witnessed a "scholar" base an argument off of something that has not happened. I guess there has to be a first time for everything. I guess when you can't win a debate on facts, you can just look into the future and guess at them until you get one right.

Matthew Bellisario said...

I just cannot let this video of James White on Martin Luther go. I would like to ask Mr. White, what doctrine or dogma has changed in the Catholic Church before Vatican II to after it? Mr. White says all of these old Catholics who saw a consistent teaching before Vatican II, now must be confused. So Mr. White admits that the Catholic Church taught consistent doctrine before VC II and has now changed? His videos are going more and more out in left field. Once again Mr White gives no sources, no examples, nothing of any substance to back his statements. Are we beginning to see a pattern here? I have written an article completely documented, showing how a very reliable Protestant scholar disagrees with him and his assessment of the early Church and Sacred Scripture, yet the best he could come up with was a character attack in which he states that I am just a wishful thinker. Yet he does not counter my documented statements with any substance. Is this real scholarship? I will challenge White right now to a written debate on the first 400 years of the Church, and how these Fathers viewed the Deuterocanonical books. Yet White just dances the same dance he always does. When he is presented with documented rebuttals he does his best to avoid any further confrontation. I will continue to put forth documented pieces defending the Catholic faith, and when I see someone like White, or his buddy James Swan, I will point out their errors. If either of them want to debate me in a formal written setting on these Early Fathers and the Deuterocanon, I welcome it.

Matt said...

Ratzinger explicitly says in his interview on this subject...

...that Luther's excommunication (because he is an individual) cannot be lifted because excommunication only pertains to the living. God deals with the judgment of those who have died.

And I wonder if James Swan thinks that Joseph Lortz's scholarship is wrong on "the facts." Is he reducing the scholarship of one of the best historians of our era to a mere apologist of ecumenism? This is especially strange since he often uses Lortz and his students/followers as a weapon against Catholic apologists (who repeat the old foolishness about Luther). I don't think he can have it both ways...

Matt said...

To clarify, Luther's excommunication cannot be lifted because he was no longer juridically excommunicated at his death. So, whatever his fate, he is no longer excommunicated.

Alexander Greco said...

Will Jaime Blanco ever respond to Bellisario's challenge? Just when you thought that there would be a discussion...

Matthew Bellisario said...

Last week James White made a video making claims that the Vatican was posed to make changes on its teachings of excommunication on Martin Luther. I countered his video on Beggars All blog showing how foolish it was for someone to base an argument off of something has not happened yet. Of course White did not respond. I wonder, will White now apologize for using such a haphazard stance for his argument of the Catholic Church changing its teachings. I don't think he realizes the true meaning of doctrine or dogma, papal infallibility anyways. But that is beside the point. The point is he gave credibility to this news article, then based an argument off of it, and now we have an official statement by the Vatican saying that it was all a farce. Will White apologize to all of the Catholics he insulted on his videos? Probably not. But we can expect that cant we? Here is the article.

Vatican spokesman calls rumors of rehabilitation of Luther groundlessBy Carol GlatzCatholic News ServiceVATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Rumors that the Vatican is set to rehabilitate Martin Luther, the 16th-century leader of the Protestant Reformation, are groundless, said the Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi.News reports in early March alleged that Pope Benedict XVI was dedicating a planned September symposium with former doctoral students to re-evaluating Luther, who was excommunicated and condemned for heresy.The story "does not have any foundation, insofar as no rehabilitation of Luther is foreseen," Father Lombardi told the Italian news agency ANSA March 8.Vatican officials said the topic of the pope's annual summer gathering of former students this year has not yet been decided. Of the two topics under consideration, Luther is not one of them, one official told Catholic News Service.Excesses in 16th-century preaching about indulgences and in Catholic penitential practices sparked Luther, a theologian and Augustinian monk, to seek reform in the church. His concerns started a movement that led to the Protestant Reformation.The church excommunicated Luther for preaching a philosophy doubting the pope's infallibility.Luther emphasized the absolute primacy of God's action in freeing people from sin and making them just, and the total sufficiency of Christ's death to expiate the sins of all.In 1983, Pope John Paul II noted that studies by Lutheran and Catholic researchers "have led to a more complete and more differentiated image of the personality of Luther" as well as the complicated historical factors surrounding his life.Nearly 500 years after the Reformation began in 1517, Lutherans and Catholics resolved one of the issues that began the Reformation era when they signed the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification in 1999.The declaration said the churches' consensus on basic truths means that the doctrine of justification is not a church-dividing issue for Catholics and Lutherans even though differences between them remain in language, theological elaboration and emphasis surrounding those basic truths.

Alexander Greco said...

Matthew, you should know by now that this is the level of Protestant apologetics, being that they jump to conclusions without all of the relevant facts first. I doubt that the two James will make an intellectually honest reply (if they reply at all); instead, we will enter the spin zone of Alpha and Omega Ministries.

Paul Hoffer said...

Mr. Swan, Your selective parsing of Exsurge Domine here gives the false impression that the Catholic Church damned Fr. Luther. It did not. You don't have to take my word for it; I would invite people to read the Papal Bull for themselves. Here is a link to an English translation of the Bull: In actuality, the wording of the Bull is far kinder and beneficent towards Fr. Luther than much of what he wrote and said about the Pope and the Church.

I will be charitable here and presume that Mr. Swan out of ignorance does not really know what the term "excommunication" means rather than intentionally mislead those who read this blog. It is lamentable that it would appear that some Catholics, "Johannes" for example, do not understand what the doctrine is either. If "Johannes" actually had studied any of the doctrines of the Church, he would have known better than to make the remarks that he did. Is this person made up or he is a real person?

To be blunt: The Catholic Church has NEVER claimed that it has the authority to damn anyone. If anyone actually is interested in what the Catholic Church teaches as far as excommunication, please read here: There are also some excellent books out there written by canon lawyers and scholars that may be purchased at any Catholic bookstore.

The long and the short of it is that an excommunicant is still a Christian as a validly baptised person' baptism marks him as a Christian which can never be taken away. An excommunicant is ONLY denied the right to participate in the Church or partake of the sacraments unless they repent of the sin of heresy.

I would ask that Mr. Swan, as a fellow Christian and someone who is interested in truth, to take the time to set the record straight and correct any misunderstanding that his article here has caused his readers. It is one thing to have legitimate disagreements; it is a far different story to forment disagreement based on a falsehood, however inadvertent.

Oh by the way, the rumor that this article was based on, was a false one too. Perhaps, you might want to take the time to point out that the source was in error as well.

God bless all who read this blog.

James Swan said...

Oh by the way, the rumor that this article was based on, was a false one too. Perhaps, you might want to take the time to point out that the source was in error as well.

There isn’t any need to, as someone else in this comment section already posted the updated news story. Second, it was a news story, and I speculatively commented on whether Rome could pull this off, note my statements about Trent. Why are you posting the same comments on my blog that you’ve posted on other blogs? I would speculate, you didn’t even read through the comment section here before you posted, or you would have seen the updated news story. I question your true motivations for coming over here.

I question also your ability to read through this blog entry accurately. You state,

“To be blunt: The Catholic Church has NEVER claimed that it has the authority to damn anyone”

and also,

It is lamentable that it would appear that some Catholics, "Johannes" for example, do not understand what the doctrine is either. If "Johannes" actually had studied any of the doctrines of the Church, he would have known better than to make the remarks that he did. Is this person made up or he is a real person?

Johannes stated,

“I know the bulls do not say that the Pope is damning Luther.”

“The solemn threats of the bulls do not seem to be dealing with a mere probable destiny. Rather, it looks like they claim that Luther must either repent before he dies, or face damnation after his death.”

“The standard modern response to this appears to be the assertion that the church never directly or explicitly said that Luther was damned. That is of course true. But it ignores what seems like a simple, albeit indirect, inference from the bulls.”

I should not have to spend the time cutting and pasting these statements, particularly defending someone I don’t even know, particularly since you are an educated man, a man capable of reading for accuracy.

Mr. Swan, Your selective parsing of Exsurge Domine here gives the false impression that the Catholic Church damned Fr. Luther. It did not.

You will note, Luther never retracted, or recanted his position against Rome in his writings, so according to your church, please apply the following:

“Moreover, because the preceding errors and many others are contained in the books or writings of Martin Luther, we likewise condemn, reprobate, and reject completely the books and all the writings and sermons of the said Martin, whether in Latin or any other language, containing the said errors or any one of them; and we wish them to be regarded as utterly condemned, reprobated, and rejected.”

Remember all that Luther research you did? Remember all those writings of Luther you went through?

We forbid each and every one of the faithful of either sex, in virtue of holy obedience and under the above penalties to be incurred automatically, to read, assert, preach, praise, print, publish, or defend them. They will incur these penalties if they presume to uphold them in any way, personally or through another or others, directly or indirectly, tacitly or explicitly, publicly or occultly, either in their own homes or in other public or private places.

Note this also:

Therefore we can, without any further citation or delay, proceed against him to his condemnation and damnation as one whose faith is notoriously suspect and in fact a true heretic with the full severity of each and all of the above penalties and censures.

Consider this as well from Decet Romanum:

He has now been declared a heretic; and so also others, whatever their authority and rank, who have cared nought of their own salvation but publicly and in all men's eyes become followers of Martin's pernicious and heretical sect, and given him openly and publicly their help, counsel and favour, encouraging him in their midst in his disobedience and obstinacy, or hindering the publication of our said missive: such men have incurred the punishments set out in that missive, and are to be treated rightfully as heretics and avoided by all faithful Christians, as the Apostle says (Titus iii. 10-11).

Our decrees which follow are passed against Martin and others who follow him in the obstinacy of his depraved and damnable purpose, as also against those who defend and protect him with a military bodyguard, and do not fear to support him with their own resources or in any other way, and have and do presume to offer and afford help, counsel and favour toward him. All their names, surnames and rank—however lofty and dazzling their dignity may be—we wish to be taken as included in these decrees with the same effect as if they were individually listed and could be so listed in their publication, which must be furthered with an energy to match their contents.

On all these we decree the sentences of excommunication, of anathema, of our perpetual condemnation and interdict; of privation of dignities, honours and property on them and their descendants, and of declared unfitness for such possessions; of the confiscation of their goods and of the crime of treason; and these and the other sentences, censures and punishments which are inflicted by canon law on heretics and are set out in our aforesaid missive, we decree to have fallen on all these men to their damnation.

We prescribe and enjoin that the men in question are everywhere to be denounced publicly as excommunicated, accursed, condemned, interdicted, deprived of possessions and incapable of owning them. They are to be strictly shunned by all faithful Christians.

… this same Martin and the rest are excommunicate, accursed, condemned, heretics, hardened, interdicted, deprived of possessions and incapable of owning them, and so listed in the enforcement of these presents. Three days will be given: we pronounce canonical warning and allow one day's notice on the first, another on the second, but on the third peremptory and final execution of our order.

I stand with Johannes, whoever he is, in his questioning of the implications extracted from the Roman documents directed toward Luther. Remember Luther did not recant to your false church on his deathbed. If I were a Roman Catholic, I would be honest enough to actually believe what my church infers. I would use it to warn others that heresy against mother church will come to a bad end. Perhaps it gives you solace to rest in ambiguity about Luther’s eternal fate. Honesty though should dictate that you should at least try to empathize with those of us on the other side of the Tiber. We read your documents, and simply ask that you stand behind what they say and infer. Your church has made some strong declarations against Luther. Please stand behind them. My blog entry notes Luther wasn’t condemned at Trent, and I also noted Jedin’s position.

At least, we should be able to agree, that according to your church, if Luther did not recant, his fate is as described in the documents cited. Honesty demands you should at least grant this point.

James Swan said...

Thank you all for your comments. This comment thread is now closed.